OPINION: HARVEY MACKAY — The brilliance of resilience

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Baseball great Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times over the 22 seasons he played.

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run,” the Babe said.

And during those 22 seasons, he hit 714 home runs, a record that stood from 1935 until 1974, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th.

Babe Ruth’s attitude could have been defeatist instead — after all, his mistakes were made in a most public way in front of fans who wanted nothing more than to watch him hit another homer. Instead, he went back to the dugout, refusing to lick his wounds, and prepared for his next at-bat.

That is what I call resilience.

Nearly all the successful people I know have dealt with defeat, slumps, failures, change and adversities of every nature. The reason they are successful in spite of all that is they had the confidence and courage to face those setbacks and find a way to overcome them. For some, it was pure stubbornness; for others, it was a refusal to admit defeat.

I’ve had my share of business challenges, which I have written about frequently. Bear with me while I refresh your memory: I have been in the envelope business for more than 50 years. Do people still use envelopes the same way or as often as they did in the 1960s? Not even close. That was before email, faxes, online bill pay, Facebook, Twitter and all forms of electronic communication. We could have easily closed our doors and given up.

Had we at MackayMitchell Envelope Company decided to live in the past, we would have defied our company motto: “To be in business forever.”

We needed to look at how businesses used our products in their changing environments. We had to retool machinery and retrain employees. We worked hard to introduce new lines of business and encourage our sales force to think of new ways to best serve our customers. It has been an ongoing process responding to every technological advance. Our only way forward was to be resilient enough to change with the times.

The only thing that never changes is change itself. Today, change comes faster than ever. To survive and thrive, the skill you need to master is resilience.

Susan Dunn, a clinical psychologist, has observed that people who can bounce back after failure and confront new obstacles without losing their nerve generally do these essential things:

• Learn from experience. Resilient people reflect on what happens to them, good and bad, so they can move forward without illusion.

• Accept setbacks and losses. You’ve got to face the reality of what has happened in order to get past it.

• Recognize emotions. Resilient people don’t hide from their feelings. They identify what they’re feeling and express their emotions appropriately.

• Keep time in perspective. Past, present and future are separate. Don’t mix them up by letting what’s in the past determine your choices in the here and now.

• Think creatively and flexibly. Look for new ways to solve problems and face challenges.

• Take care of yourself. Resilience is based on good physical and mental health. Get enough rest, eat sensibly and spend time with people who support you.

• Ask for help. Resilient people don’t try to do everything themselves. Accept that you’ll need to ask others for assistance, and learn how to do so graciously and effectively.

I can’t think of any business that can’t adapt somehow. Kids who have never seen a manual typewriter are well-schooled on computer keyboards. Rotary telephones are relics, but how many of us are constantly connected to our smartphones, and can’t function without them? While Grandma looked forward to the iconic Sears catalog, online shopping provides a 24-hour marketplace. That’s how resilient businesses respond.

Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was also a good example of resilience. He failed sixth grade. He was defeated in every election for public office until he was elected prime minister — at age 62. His best-known quote was also a rallying cry for resilience: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Mackay’s Moral: You don’t need a trampoline to be good at bouncing back.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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